Resources for Teaching Theatre & Performance Online

TL;DR: overview of some readings, links and other resources for taking your theatre, dance or performance studies course online.

In response to the coronavirus and COVID-19, theatre and performance studies courses are moving classes online in a hurry. Welcome! Some of us have been hanging around here for a while and are happy to help. For those curious about what to read or resources for online videos and films, I’ve created a quick and dirty list of resources that I’ll update when I can. Here are some things to get you started.

I’ve created a few different lists. If you want to read about many of the same titles with more context (for you or your students), there’s a chapter in my book co-authored with Jennifer Parker-Starbuck and David Z. Saltz that outlines many of the key texts in detail. The book is Performance and Media: Taxonomies for a Changing Field (2015) and you want Chapter 2: Texts and Contexts. (If you need a copy of just this chapter, let me know.)

But if you’re here because you’re self-isolating and your classroom is now powered by zoom.us, you and your students probably aren’t interested in the history of technology on stage; you’re probably trying to figure out how to get through the rest of your semester with no actual theatre to attend.

At the risk of self-aggrandizement (too late; I already self-cited above), a practical essay to get you started is my “Theatre Squared: Theatre History in the Age of Media,” which you can download. Don’t let the history part fool you. This is mainly about how to watch and teach videos of live performance. It was written with teaching in mind and I’ve found that it teaches pretty well at multiple levels. The other essay I’ve written about this is “Unseen: Performance Criticism and Digital Recordings.” Unseen is – fittingly, enough – behind a paywall, but I imagine that if you don’t have access to the essay, the good folks at Yale and Duke UP probably wouldn’t mind if I shared a .pdf. So, do try to download, but if you get stuck, let me know. Both of these essays are about how to watch theatre online or on video. They’re fairly short and to the point.  As you think about the potential consequences of watching a whole bunch of theatre on video, I stand by my earlier manifesto: “Theatre is Media: Some Principles for a Digital Historiography of Performance.” Feel free to skip to the bullet points.

I wrote a couple of these at the invitation of Jacob Gallagher-Ross and Miriam Felton-Dansky, who co-edited some great issues of Theater on “Digital Dramaturgies,” “Digital Feelings,” and “Spectatorship in an Age of Surveillance.”

More recently, Lindsay Brandon Hunter has written “Digital theatricality: flickering documents in unsteady archives” for Amodern 7. Kalle Westerling has been writing about theatre, performance and the digital humanities for a long time and has shared a great reading list on his website.

Things to Watch When the Theatres Are Closed

Rather than thinking about how to watch, you’re probably more interested in what to watch. Happily, there are a lot of resources now available. My favourite, which I’ve noted else where is ontheboards.tv. Created by the Seattle venue On the Boards, this is a great collection of exceptionally well-filmed contemporary performances. Shows include Ralph Lemon, Young Jean Lee, Temporary Distortion, among others. I’ve seen shows there both live and in recordings and they’re fantastically different experiences, but equally great. Highly recommend. I’ve also mentioned Howlround Theatre Commons and Spiderwebshow, where “Canada, the internet, and live performance connect.”

There’s also, kanopy, which has a performing arts section and is often accessible through your university or college library. Other resources include Digital Theatre and Drama Online, among others. For those interested in music concerts, the Berlin Philharmonic recently played in its Digital Concert Hall. They played a stunning concert recently to a similtaneously empty house and a diverse globally distributed audience.

And, many artists host videos of their work on their websites. Again, a personal favourite is Kris Verdonck, who makes interesting work with great video documentation. The Wooster Group now has short outtake videos and Big Art Group has short videos from all its performances. As noted in a twitter exchange earlier, The Theatre Times site also has tons of resources on contemporary performances and transmedia.

If you’re in the mood for an incomplete, top-of-mind lit review, here’s my reference bookshelf on such topics:

History and Theory of Media on Stage

  • Brenda Laurel’s Computers as Theatre (1993)
  • Philip Auslander’s Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (esp. chp. 1, 1999; rev. ed. 2008)
  • David Z. Saltz’s “Live Media: Interactive Technology and Theatre” Theatre Topics 11.2 (Sept. 2001): 107-130.
  • Susan Broadhurst and Josephine’s Machon’s Performance and Technology: Practices of Virtual Embodiment and Interactivity (2006)
  • Freda Chapple and Chiel Kattenbelt’s Intermediality in Theatre and Performance (2006)
  • Matthew Causey’s Theatre and Performance in Digital Culture: From Simulation to Embeddedness (2006)
  • Steve Dixon’s Digital Performance: A History of New Media in Theater, Dance, Performance Art and Installation (2007)
  • Susan Kozel’s Closer: Performance, Technologies, Phenomenologies (2007)
  • Chris Salter’s Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance (2010)
  • Sarah Bay-Cheng, Chiel Kattenbelt, Andy Lavender and Robin Nelson’s Mapping Intermediality in Performance (2010)
  • Jennifer Parker-Starbuck’s Cyborg Theatre (2011)
  • Steve Benford and Gabrielle Giannachi’s Performing Mixed Reality (2011)
  • Rosemary Klich and Edward Scheer’s Multimedia Performance (2012)
  • Sarah Bay-Cheng, Jennifer Parker-Starbuck, and David Z. Saltz’s Performance and Media: Taxonomies for a Changing Field (2015)
  • Maaike Bleeker, Transmission in Motion: The Technologizing of Dance (2016)
  • Andy Lavender, Performance in the Twenty-First Century (2016)

These are mostly histories and theories of technologies on stage and in performance, but they can give you a good overview on what a lot of us have been reading for the past 2 decades or so. If you’re just getting started with your students, I recommend the first chapter of Auslander and dipping in and out of the intermediality anthologies. Especially Mapping Intermediality has some fun key words that you can follow around, depending on what you’re looking for.

I’m sure I’m missing tons of great stuff here, so feel free to post in the comments.

***BONUS

Since you’ve read all the way through this long, self-indulgent post, you deserve a bonus. So, here’s an online performance assignment I’ve been planning for a while. I won’t have time to teach it for a while, so it’s yours for the taking now.

Gather a collection of live theatre presented in films and use that as the basis for your exploration of theatre and media. What’s fun is that many of these theatre shows are made up or imagined, but they’re always interesting. As a suggestion, look at the use of theatre in Persona, Waiting for Guffman, and anything by Pedro Almodovar (he has the best theatre in his films, often totally made up). I’ve been wanting to work on an essay for a while about why films stage theatre within them and why. I don’t have any good answers, but I would be very curious what other people are thinking.

Happy watching!

Interview with Paula Vogel

Well, actually, I just get to sit in a room, while Paula Vogel talks to me about Indecent, New York critics, and the danger of a theatre that fails to support its young artists. Inspiring, passionate, and fun. You can listen to it as a special episode of the On TAP (Theatre and Performance) podcast: http://www.ontappod.com/home/2017/10/6/on-tap-special-paula-vogel.

Don’t miss other monthly podcast episodes at: http://www.ontappod.com.